HL Deb 13 December 1979 vol 403 cc1404-6

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Milk) Order 1979 laid before the House on 29th November 1979 be approved. This order will allow liquid milk to be sold in an alternative range of prescribed metric quantities from 1st January 1980. The existing range of imperial quantities already prescribed under the 1963 Weights and Measures Act is not affected by this order since the Government do not intend to dictate the pace of metrication by phasing out these imperial sizes. Specifically nothing in the order prevents the trade from continuing to deliver the traditional and most popular pint bottle to the doorstep. This honours assurances given by successive Governments for the last 10 or 15 years.

The necessity for the order arises from our obligations under an EEC Council Directive, which I regret to say is commonly known as the "Liquids Directive ", which was adopted in December 1974. This Directive requires all Member States to remove any metrological barriers to the marketing of certain specified metric sizes of a number of pre-packed liquids. Of these, cows' milk is the only one for which the United Kingdom has restrictive legislation, since it is one of a number of basic foodstuffs which have long been required by law to be sold only in certain specified quantities as an aid to consumer protection. Although the Liquids Directive generally requires any restrictions to be removed within 18 months of its adoption the United Kingdom was allowed to defer implementation until 31st December 1979. This is why the proposed order has to be effective from 1st January 1980. We are also introducing for the first time an exemption whereby small quantities of milk below 50 millilitres may be sold in any size of pack. This is to avoid the possibility of an unwitting offence being committed through small packs which are essentially supplied for catering purposes finding their way to the retail market, as can happen.

It is by no means certain that metric packs will appear on the market in the near future, and it is unlikely that the doorstep pint will disappear for a very long time. Certainly the United Kingdom dairy trade have told us that there are no immediate plans to adopt any metric sizes. To cover the eventual possibility of shop sales in metric cartons, however, separate regulations are being made requiring all containers other than glass bottles to be dual marked, in both metric and imperial quantities. Noble Lords will also note that the special provisions for vending machine sales are restated in this order. This permits cartons containing less than half a pint to be sold in any size.

My Lords, this is a straightforward measure which does no more than we are required to do under the EEC Liquids Directive. It has full support from the trade by retaining the concept of the pint and the half pint, and the one-third pint, which I understand is very popular in the schools. Consumers' interests will be safeguarded by the dual marking requirement. My Lords, with that, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29th November 1979, be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining the provisions of this order. I am sure that noble Lords will be pleased to know that from 1st January 1980 it will become legal to purchase small quantities of milk in little individual packs. One wonders what happens if somebody wishes to purchase a quantity of milk which is more than 50 millilitres and less than 200 millilitres. One conceives that those who market such commodities might think of marking a two-cup pack instead of a single cup pack. Perhaps consideration ought to be given to whether we ought to be able to buy two-person packs as well as one-person packs. But I am sure that the people of Britain as a whole will be pleased to know of this new liberty of being able to buy these small portions of milk without committing an offence in doing so. I would in general terms commend this order to the House, but I should be interested to know whether the noble Lord has any comments to make on the possibilities of a two-person pack.


My Lords, we are grateful for the welcome we have had for this order from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I just wondered whether the noble Lord was stepping back into the previous debate about sex films, and that kind of thing, if he was wondering about two-packs. I am not sure what is the capacity of what the noble Lord was calling single person packs. He will be reassured to know that 100 millilitre packs of milk are legal now by this order. Nevertheless, I have not got the answer. I am not sure about odd packs—let us say 86 millilitres, or something like that—which may be a two-person pack, but I shall endeavour to find out and inform the noble Lord as soon as possible.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. My reading of the paper was that they were only legal at 100 millilitres if made up before 1st January 1981.


My Lords, the noble Lord is right; but the noble Lord and the House should know me better, and that we shall be back, I hope at these Benches, before that date.

On Question, Motion agreed to.